Lamar Smith’s dreadful plan to religion up your science.

Let’s all let Sarah Palin decide what is scientifically valid and what is not, shall we? Sound like a bad idea to you?

Well, it sounds like a grand idea to House of Representatives Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas. According to Science Insider, the Texas Rep has drafted a bill requiring all National Science Foundation grants to pass a rigorous political review to determine if the research is “in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science.” Smith is also one of the principal “architects” for the House version of SOPA. So… there’s that.

In whose interest and by what standard do we measure “the interests” of the United States? Would studying something like or somehow related to evolution be ok? Or should our nation’s scientists delve into the abyss of creationism? Does every grant in the National Science Foundation’s queue need to get rewritten every time there is a new majority in the House? The Senate? A new party in the White House?

The route to this wonderworld of science-as-policy is as drearily predictable as it is fundamentally flawed. The vehicle, of course, is money:

Two weeks ago, Republicans on the science committee took to task both John Holdren, the president’s science adviser, and Cora Marrett, the acting NSF director, during hearings on President Barack Obama’s proposed 2014 science budget. They read the titles of several grants, questioned the value of the research, and asked both administration officials to defend NSF’s decision to fund the work.

On Thursday, Smith sent a letter to Marrett asking for more information on five recent NSF grants. In particular, he requested copies of the comments from each reviewer, as well as the notes of the NSF program officer managing the awards.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell my audience that simply reading the titles of science grants is not at all adequate to assessing the scientific – to say nothing of societal or national – interest of a research grant. But this is AM radio propaganda made manifest: let the bumpkins puzzle over the silly names of grants and determine whether those grants have value, based solely on their own relatively limited set of interests.

Don’t get me wrong: I have very little interest in chicken sperm, as a rule. I might perhaps not find it interesting enough to spend money on. But my limited set of interests aren’t what matter. The multitude interests of a wider community of scientists who may just make the next great discovery in some far-flung field are what have the most intrinsic value. They are the great strength of the scientific community and the engine of new technologies that will indeed have direct value for our society.

I’ve discussed this at length many times before, but the truth of science is that you can’t necessarily know where the next great discovery will come from. Or what tangential sciences may aid another in finding it. If a cancer researcher needs more information about the diet and life of commercial chickens, it may just be the guy studying rooster jizz that has the answers he’s looking for. And – I cannot stress this enough – the peer-reviewed research to positively document the answer.

If on the other hand, we allow politicians to control the NSF, not only might we lose the key to finding a cure for a certain type of cancer, but we might lose the credibility of the peer review process that provides all sciences a common link. If the idea of religious extremists setting scientific agenda doesn’t scare you, consider this: would you as a cancer patient be willing to trust the research approved and funded by Sarah Palin? Dennis Kucinich? God help us all, Randy Savage?

There is a petition going around asking our representatives to resist this new attack. I highly encourage my audience to read sign and pass it on.

Economy Politics

What Passes for Compromise, These Days


Talking Points Memo is currently reporting that the latest “compromise” plan out of the House – this meaning: Conservatives compromising with Very Conservatives – proposes a too-small debt ceiling addition in exchange for a balanced budget Constitutional amendment:

Practically Delusional | Talking Points Memo.

The debt ceiling would be raised immediately but not by enough to get the government through next year. To get the second debt ceiling increase, House Republicans want a balanced budget constitutionalamendment to pass both chambers first and be referred to the states.

Basically, the Republicans in the House want two thirds of a process only known to have happened 27 times in 200+ years to be completed before they’ll raise the debt ceiling again. This is the sound of the wheels coming right off the Speaker Boehner soapbox cart.


Massa Introduces Credit Reform Bill

I suspect this is one piece of legislation which will die a swift and horrible death in the House of Representatives, but who knows? The mood of the country is on the right side of the credit reform issue right now – and we’re all looking for a way to penalize banks anyway – so maybe this thing has a shot if it gets done quickly. I wonder, though, if it might not have been wiser to have introduced as an amendment to another bill than as it’s own thing. The question is: who besides Massa is willing to publicly endorse this same bill?

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This morning Rep. Eric Massa (NY-29) introduced his first piece of legislation in Congress. The American Credit Card Reform Act has five key objectives designed to prevent predatory lending practices by the credit card industry:

  • Cap maximum credit card interest rates at 14%
  • Prohibit transfer fees
  • Prohibit predatory advertising on college campuses
  • Prohibit the changing of credit card terms if the consumer is in full compliance with the terms
  • Require due dates to be set at a minimum of 30 days from the date bills are sent

Here We Go Again. . .

If anyone needs any specific reason to think that the Republican Party has run plum out of ideas, check out their obstructionist tactics on the stimulus bill. Where have we heard about this one before? Oh, yes. I remember: the bank bailout bill that in obstructing they hamstrung their candidate and cost themselves the election. Looks like the House and Senate Republicans are planning on going for a double-dip because, “ooh! Wasn’t that lovely!”

It’s kinda nice watching the Republicans play Keystone Cops for a change.

I’m not sure that I agree with Josh Marshall‘s assertion that obstruction is the GOP’s best stand-out political move is, as he says, the best cynical political move. Of course, I understand that in pure political calculus, if the stimulus fails and Republicans opposed it, they create a necessary differentiation between the parties. That difference can be filled in with their own ideas which they can sell to a disaffected public.

But as I probably already said once or twice before the election, I don’t think any normal person whose job is at stake gives a rat’s ass about politics right now. Think the Republicans may be vastly underestimating the “flighty” public and it’s “fan-boy love” of Obama. Americans gravitated to Obama because of his competence at at time when we have need of real leadership. The party that chooses to stand on the sidelines and complain will be the party remembered for. . . having stood on the sidelines. Americans will remember that the Republicans chose to do nothing.

Locally, that’s why my thinking is beginning to change on the Renn Square project as well. Whatever our differences and suspicions about the project, we’d do well to find a way to improve the project in ways that benefit our ideals rather than seeking to kill the plan which at this point looks kind of necessary.


Bailout Bill Defeated?

People in a position to watch C-Span are telling me that the bailout bill may have been defeated in the House.  Stay tuned.

CNN Money is reporting that the bill is “stalled.” The Dow has dropped like a stone, 500 points.  They’re leaving the vote open indefinitely (not a parlimentary procedure I typically support, but in this case?. . . ) to try to twist people’s arms into supporting this bill.

Christ.  The Republicans are going to send the entire country off a cliff because they can’t admit to being wrong?  Nothing like principled leadership.

2:10 ~ Yahoo! Reuters is now saying that the bill is defeated.

2:20 ~ MSNBC does the post mortem.  Funny that Republicans pick this moment to suddenly decide they don’t support everything the president does.  It looks as though plenty of Democrats voted against the bill as well.  That’s about what I expected, anyway.  But the one time I might have hoped for Republican Party unity to do some good for the country, they let me down.

So, now what?  Well, with the Dow in the toilet by 500 points, I suspect a lot of those same constituents the House members are trying to please will demand that the government do something.  If not now, then certainly when they start losing their jobs.

2:28 ~ Felix Salmon at Conde Nast weighs in on the situation.  His headline?  “Oh, Shit.”  This is not the blog of a vulgar teenage heavy metal enthusiast.  This is a respected economist.

2:54 ~ MSNBC has updated video on their website.  And don’t miss this video from last week, where a Republican commentator Ed Rollins states baldly that Republicans are playing Party over Country:


Again, it needs to be said that a fair number of Democrats also rolled on this one.  But not nearly as many and the Republican leadership has really failed the American people at this point.  Moreover, by failing to pass a bill rather unsettling to their sensibilities, they’ve maybe just forced the next president’s hand in recreating the Roosavelt era Great Society reforms to undo the damage of Republican rule.

Jesus, can we just send these guys somewhere and get it over with?  They don’t just want to be part of the problem, they want to be all of it.

3:06 ~ A bit of perspective on the drop in the Dow today:

The markets turned highly volatile as it became clear the measure wouldn’t find the necessary support. The Dow regained ground then fell back again, trading down 524.88, or 4.71 percent, to 10,618.25. At its low, it was down 705.06, not far from its previous record for an intraday drop, 721.56, set during the first trading day after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Still, in percentage terms, the decline remained well below the more than 20 percent drops seen on Black Monday of October 1987 and the Depression.

For what it’s worth.


Boehner’s a Boner

It’s hard to imagine how you respond to such idiocy.  According to John Boner Boehner, there’s no wildlife in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Huh.

Think Progress » Boehner falsely claims there’s no ‘wildlife’ in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In a press conference today previewing a House Republican trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that’s meant to promote drilling, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) doubted the existence of actual wildlife in the refuge. “We’re going to look at this barren, Arctic desert where I’m hoping to see some wildlife,” said Boehner. “But I understand there’s none there.” Boehner repeated his skepticism during an interview on CNN, telling Wolf Blitzer, “I’ll be looking for all that wildlife.” Ironically, CNN paired Boehner’s interview with b-roll of actual wildlife moving around the refuge.


Subprime Timeline

Interesting. . .

The Joint Economic Committee of the House of Representatives has a couple of PDF timelines covering the subprime crisis since 2006.  Obviously, it’s not a complete document, but probably good archival data to have around, nonetheless.


Hurray! House Passes no-Immunity FISA Bill

From the house I’d thought least likely to do anything right comes what is easily the best version of the Telecom/FISA bill. Granted, it’s never going to pass through the Senate much less the president, but who gives a shit? The point is that someone at least tried to stand up for our rights, unlike the ball-less Senate.

And this runs out the clock, needing to be argued over in the Senate, putting the issue of Telecom Immunity on the front burner across the country. As it gets closer to election time, there’s a good chance that Senators from iffy districts may be less inclined to pass the Senate version. I suspect that, in the end, nothing will happen with this bill until possibly after the elections.

TPMMuckraker | Talking Points Memo | House Passes Surveillance Bill without Retroactive Immunity

The House Dem leadership’s surveillance bill just cleared the House by a vote of 213-197 with 1 vote of present. 11 Dems crossed the aisle to vote against it.


Aaah! We’re All Gonna Die!!

So sayeth the Republican Party.

Anyway, looks like a great movie, but the tag line could use a bit of work: “Tell House Democrats to stop playing games with politics. (look for the Countdown to Death video game, based on this commercial, at your local Game Stop soon!!) “